It’s National Feral Cat Day, created in 2001 by Alley Cat Allies to educate people about spaying and neutering and the need to protect stray and feral cats. Click on the link above for an interactive map for events in your area.
There are many rescue groups worldwide, and then there are the individuals and small groups without charitable status who find the call of the ferals irresistible. It’s the woman in your neighborhood who feeds a feral colony or the man who keep a humane trap in his pick-up truck. I know: I’m one them. We love those elusive felines who live on the border of society. Years ago, I used to feed a colony of ferals in Toronto. One thing led to another (as it seems to with cats) and I ended up founding the Annex Cat Rescue
People who love and rescue ferals are a special breed and we’re proud to share the wisdom and extraordinary feral cat photography of Chriss Pagani, an artist from Portland, Oregon who heads the Feral Cat Rescue Project. She writes about her experience rescuing and photographing feral cats at her mesmerizing blog that is equal parts heartbreak and hope. I’m so enamored with the work she does, I’m posting more tomorrow.
Q & A with Chriss Pagani of The Feral Cat Rescue Project
LMW: What is the biggest misconception about feral cats?
CP: One big thing is the idea that feral cats are somehow wild animals that need to be exterminated. They’re not; they are descendants of domestic house cats that were once pets but were dumped or abandoned. Part of this confusion comes from the very generic use of the term “stray” when applied homeless cats. A feral cat was likely the offspring of a former pet, but it was never raised with human contact. A stray cat isn’t really really straying from anything: It was probably abandoned by its heartless former owners and is now trying to survive “in the wild.” Feral cats need a food source and a safe place to sleep; stray cats need a new home.
LMW: As someone who has documented the lives of feral cats for years, what have you learned about them and what have they taught you about life?
CP: I’ve learned that, like us, every feral cat is as unique as a snowflake. They each have their own personality, quirks, preferences… they are individuals. From feral cats I’ve learned how we are each unique in our own way, yet have many of the same needs. A feral cat wants to just not be hungry for a change – and have a safe place to sleep. That’s pretty much like the rest of us when you get down to basics. Sadly, I’ve also learned far more about suffering in the world than I ever wanted to know. It does haunt me at times.
CP: Tell us about Lucy, a feral kitten who you adopted.
CP: Lucy is a beautiful bobtail harlequin cat that was abandoned as a kitten in the fall of 2006. Feral moms have a hard time and they sometimes just give up. Anyway, I found Lucy when she was 4 weeks old. We tried to find her mom and her litter but never succeeded. Lucy had a lot of health problems, including things that pretty much every feral kitten has, like worms, fleas, anemia (from both of the latter) plus an eye infection. With plenty of warm kitten milk replacement and some vet care, she recovered just fine and is now my closest pet. She prefers to always remain at my side. In fact, she’s here helping me answer these questions!
LMW: How many cats do you live with or consider to be your pets?
CP: I have five cats that live with me, all adopted as former ferals, it’s the maximum I’m allowed to have. In addition there are four or five cats in the feral colony that were captured and tamed as kittens and put up for adoption, but they never found homes. I try to give them love and attention as often as I can but it’s not the same as having a loving home to call ones own.
LMW: If a reader would like to learn more about helping feral cats, what do you recommend?
CP: My first recommendation is that you look around your local area for small rescue organizations that do trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs, or even talk to a crazy cat lady. The best thing you can do is always right where you are. The big national organizations like The Humane Society and PETA are very showy and get a lot of publicity, but it’s likely that lone volunteers or small groups are performing all the real rescue work done in your area. You can also find information at Alley Cat Allies (alleycat.org) or my own Feral Cat Rescue Project.
LMW: Are cats your muse for your other art work?
CP: The kitties have certainly help me with my photography, in that I’ve had to think about new ways to present them as they are, without the bias that a camera lens can so easily introduce. In addition, I think that knowing about their lives has introduced new layers of complexity in my work; layers both of sadness and of hope.
Other Artwork by Chriss.